Bible Book Number 37—Haggai
Place Written: Jerusalem
Writing Completed: 520 B.C.E.
Time Covered: 112 days (520 B.C.E.)
1, 2. What information is given about the prophet Haggai, and what was his twofold message?
HAGGAI was his name; a prophet and “messenger of Jehovah” was his position, but what was his origin? (Hag. 1:13) Who was he? Haggai is the tenth of the so-called minor prophets, and he was the first of the three that served after the Jews returned to their homeland in 537 B.C.E., the other two being Zechariah and Malachi. Haggai’s name (Hebrew, Chag·gaiʹ) means “[Born on a] Festival.” This may indicate he was born on a feast day.
2 As handed down by Jewish tradition, it is reasonable to conclude that Haggai was born in Babylon and returned to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua. Haggai served side by side with the prophet Zechariah, and at Ezra 5:1 and Ezr 6:14, the two are shown encouraging the sons of the exile to resume temple building. He was a prophet of Jehovah in two respects, in that he both exhorted the Jews to fulfill their duties toward God and foretold, among other things, the shaking of all nations.—Hag. 2:6, 7.
3. What had the Jews failed to realize as to the purpose of their return from exile?
3 Why did Jehovah commission Haggai? For this reason: In 537 B.C.E., Cyrus had issued the decree permitting the Jews to return to their homeland to rebuild the house of Jehovah. But it was now 520 B.C.E., and the temple was far from being completed. All these years the Jews had let enemy opposition along with their own apathy and materialism prevent them from realizing the very purpose of their return.—Ezra 1:1-4; 3:10-13; 4:1-24; Hag. 1:4.
4. What had hindered the temple building, but what developments took place when Haggai started to prophesy?
4 As the record shows, no sooner had the foundation of the temple been laid (in 536 B.C.E.) than “the people of the land were continually weakening the hands of the people of Judah and disheartening them from building, and hiring counselors against them to frustrate their counsel.” (Ezra 4:4, 5) Finally, in 522 B.C.E., these non-Jewish opposers succeeded in having an official ban placed on the work. It was in the second year of the reign of the Persian king Darius Hystaspis, that is, in 520 B.C.E., that Haggai began to prophesy, and this encouraged the Jews to resume their temple building. At that, a letter was sent to Darius by the neighboring governors asking for a ruling on the matter; Darius revived the decree of Cyrus and supported the Jews against their enemies.
5. What proves that the book of Haggai belongs in the Bible canon?
5 There was never any question among the Jews about Haggai’s prophecy belonging in the Hebrew canon, and this is also supported by the reference to him at Ezra 5:1 as prophesying “in the name of the God of Israel,” as well as at Ezra 6:14. That his prophecy is part of ‘all Scripture inspired of God’ is proved by Paul’s quoting it at Hebrews 12:26: “Now he has promised, saying: ‘Yet once more I will set in commotion not only the earth but also the heaven.’”—Hag. 2:6.
6. Of what does Haggai’s prophecy consist, and what emphasis is put on Jehovah’s name?
6 Haggai’s prophecy consists of four messages given over a period of 112 days. His style is simple and direct, and his emphasis on Jehovah’s name is particularly noteworthy. In his 38 verses, he mentions Jehovah’s name 35 times, 14 times in the expression “Jehovah of armies.” He leaves no doubt that his message is from Jehovah: “Haggai the messenger of Jehovah went on to say to the people according to the messenger’s commission from Jehovah, saying: ‘I am with you people,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.”—1:13.
7. What did Haggai encourage the Jews to do, and what was the tenor of his message?
7 This was a very important time in the history of God’s people, and Haggai’s work proved to be most beneficial. He was not the least backward in performing his task as a prophet, and he did not mince words with the Jews. He was straightforward in telling them that it was time to quit procrastinating and to get down to business. It was time to rebuild Jehovah’s house and to restore pure worship if they wanted to enjoy any prosperity from the hand of Jehovah. The whole tenor of Haggai’s message is that if a person is to enjoy blessings from Jehovah, he must serve the true God and do the work Jehovah commands to be done.
CONTENTS OF HAGGAI
8. Why are the Jews not being blessed materially by Jehovah?
8 The first message (1:1-15). This is directed to Governor Zerubbabel and High Priest Joshua, but in the hearing of the people. The people have been saying, “The time has not come, the time of the house of Jehovah, for it to be built.” Jehovah through Haggai asks a searching question: “Is it the time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house is waste?” (1:2, 4) They have sown much in a material way, but it has benefited them little in the way of food, drink, and clothing. “Set your heart upon your ways,” admonishes Jehovah. (1:7) It is high time to bring in lumber and build the house, that Jehovah may be glorified. The Jews are taking good care of their own houses, but Jehovah’s house lies waste. Therefore, Jehovah has withheld the dew of heaven and the increase of the field and his blessing from upon man and his toil.
9. How does Jehovah rouse up the Jews to get to work?
9 Ah, they get the point! Haggai has not prophesied in vain. Rulers and people begin “to listen to the voice of Jehovah their God.” Fear of Jehovah replaces fear of man. Jehovah’s assurance through his messenger Haggai is: “I am with you people.” (1:12, 13) It is Jehovah himself who rouses up the spirit of the governor, the spirit of the high priest, and the spirit of the remnant of His people. They get to work, just 23 days after the start of Haggai’s prophesying and despite the official ban of the Persian government.
10. What do some Jews feel about the temple they are building, but what does Jehovah promise?
10 The second message (2:1-9). Less than a month passes after the building activity is revived, and Haggai gives his second inspired message. This is addressed to Zerubbabel, Joshua, and the remaining ones of the people. Evidently some of the Jews who returned from the exile and who had seen the former temple of Solomon felt that this temple would be nothing by comparison. But what is the utterance of Jehovah of armies? ‘Be strong and work, for I am with you people.’ (2:4) Jehovah reminds them of his covenant with them, and he tells them not to be afraid. He strengthens them with the promise that he will rock all the nations and cause their desirable things to come in and that he will fill his house with glory. The glory of this later house will be even greater than that of the former, and in this place he will give peace.
11. (a) By what allegory does Haggai point out the priests’ neglect? (b) What has resulted therefrom?
11 The third message (2:10-19). Two months and three days later, Haggai addresses the priests. He uses an allegory to drive home his point. Will a priest’s carrying holy flesh make holy any other food he touches? The answer is no. Does the touching of something unclean, such as a dead body, make the one touching it unclean? The answer is yes. Haggai then applies the allegory. The people of the land are unclean by reason of their neglect of pure worship. Whatever they offer appears unclean to Jehovah God. Because of this, Jehovah has not blessed their labors, and in addition he has sent on them scorching heat, mildew, and hail. Let them change their ways. Then Jehovah will bless them.
12. What final message does Haggai direct to Zerubbabel?
12 The fourth message (2:20-23). Haggai delivers this message on the same day as the third message, but it is directed to Zerubbabel. Again Jehovah speaks of “rocking the heavens and the earth,” but this time he extends this theme to the complete annihilation of the kingdoms of the nations. Many will be brought down, “each one by the sword of his brother.” (2:21, 22) Haggai concludes his prophecy with an assurance of Jehovah’s favor for Zerubbabel.
13. Of what immediate benefit was Haggai’s prophesying?
13 Jehovah’s four messages communicated through Haggai were beneficial to the Jews of that day. They were encouraged to go right to work, and in four and a half years, the temple was completed to advance true worship in Israel. (Ezra 6:14, 15) Jehovah blessed their zealous activity. It was during this time of temple building that Darius the king of Persia examined the state records and reaffirmed the decree of Cyrus. The temple work was thus completed with his official backing.—Ezra 6:1-13.
14. What wise counsel does Haggai provide for our day?
14 The prophecy also contains wise counsel for our day. How so? For one thing, it underscores the need for the creature to put the interests of God’s worship ahead of his own personal interests. (Hag. 1:2-8; Matt. 6:33) It also drives home the point that selfishness is self-defeating, that it is futile to pursue materialism; it is the peace and blessing of Jehovah that make rich. (Hag. 1:9-11; 2:9; Prov. 10:22) It also stresses that the service of God itself does not make one clean unless it is pure and whole-souled, and that it must not be contaminated by unclean conduct. (Hag. 2:10-14; Col. 3:23; Rom. 6:19) It shows that God’s servants must not be pessimistic, looking back to “good old days,” but be forward-looking, ‘setting their heart upon their ways’ and seeking to bring glory to Jehovah. Then Jehovah will be with them.—Hag. 2:3, 4; 1:7, 8, 13; Phil. 3:13, 14; Rom. 8:31.
15. What does the book of Haggai show as to the results of zealous obedience?
15 Once they got busy in the temple work, the Jews were favored by Jehovah, and they prospered. Obstacles vanished. The work was accomplished in good time. Fearless, zealous activity for Jehovah will always be rewarded. Difficulties, real or imagined, can be overcome by exercising courageous faith. Obedience to “the word of Jehovah” gets results.—Hag. 1:1.
16. What relation does the prophecy of Haggai have to the Kingdom hope, and to what service should it stir us today?
16 What of the prophecy that Jehovah will ‘rock the heavens and the earth’? The apostle Paul gives the application of Haggai 2:6 in these words: “But now [God] has promised, saying: ‘Yet once more I will set in commotion not only the earth but also the heaven.’ Now the expression ‘Yet once more’ signifies the removal of the things being shaken as things that have been made, in order that the things not being shaken may remain. Wherefore, seeing that we are to receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us continue to have undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably render God sacred service with godly fear and awe. For our God is also a consuming fire.” (Heb. 12:26-29) Haggai shows that the rocking is in order to “overthrow the throne of kingdoms and annihilate the strength of the kingdoms of the nations.” (Hag. 2:21, 22) In quoting the prophecy, Paul speaks, in contrast, of God’s Kingdom “that cannot be shaken.” In contemplation of this Kingdom hope, let us, then, ‘be strong and work,’ rendering God sacred service. Let us be mindful, too, that before Jehovah overthrows the nations of earth, something precious is to be stirred up and is to come out of them, for survival: “‘I will rock all the nations, and the desirable things of all the nations must come in; and I will fill this house with glory,’ Jehovah of armies has said.”—2:4, 7.